In Role-Playing Games, attacks and magic can hinder, weaken, or otherwise negatively affect a character's combat utility in a wide variety of ways beyond simply reducing their Hit Points to zero. These negative secondary effects are commonly known as "status ailments".
Status ailments are a defining element of the RPG genre; try to think of an RPG system that doesn't support some kind of negative Status Effects and ... well, we'll still be here when you get back. They can also show up in other genres, like Real-Time Strategy (to accentuate the "strategy" part) or Shooters, even puzzle games or platformers — especially if RPG Elements are present in general.
Status ailments can have a variety of mechanical effects on gameplay, including but not limited to:
- Damage Over Time: Usually sapping a character's Hit Points. Arguably the most common effect, to the point where even if a system only defines one status effect, it will probably be this one.
- Negatively affects a character's statistical prowess (reduced attack or defense power, accuracy or evasion, Critical Hit rate or Luck Stat, etc.), or negatively affecting or overriding other fixed traits such as a character's elemental classification, class, even species or mineral composition.
- Overriding or subverting general rules of combat that the player takes for granted (like suddenly taking damage from Heal spells).
- Restricting/limiting the actions available to a character, typically by disabling access to certain skills (e.g. magic), though the character may still have other actions available to them. Also includes ailments that force the character to use only a specific action or skill (as it denies them access to other actions).
- The character is completely disabled or incapacitated; i.e. they lose their turn. May be a temporary (paralysis, sleep) or lingering ("knockout") condition; if it's the latter, they may be flagged as 'functionally dead' for purposes of checking for a Game Over. Note that 'functionally dead' is not the same as 'actually dead', depending on the setting's rules for how reversible death is (or isn't).
- An Interface Screw that interferes with the player's control over their characters (more common in action-oriented systems than turn-based ones).
- AI control over a character that is normally player-controlled (more common in turn-based systems than action-oriented ones).
- Allegiance reversal or friendly fire enabled (typically in combination with the above) nothing is more deadly than watching your own party members be turned against you.
- A visible timer that triggers something if it can't be dispelled/cured/avoided before it hits zero. Since this one's kind enough to warn you in advance, the "something" is usually instant death.
- Ability to go viralnote , spreading from one party member to another in an infectious manner.
Of course, while status ailments are in some ways the negative counterpart to the Status Buff, not every ailment has a positive counterpart (or vice versa), and some games classify ailments and buffs as separate mechanics of their system.
Ailments also have a number of practical differences from buffs:
- Status ailments are more prevalent: Whereas status buffs tend to be associated with the late game (often being the exclusive province of mages and spellcasting), status ailments are commonly seen from the early game, even at low levels e.g. a venomous monster that randomly inflicts Poison with its usual attacks.
- Status ailments are more persistent: They tend to last until explicitly cured or removed (which makes them all the more annoying for it), while status buffs tend to automatically wear off over time (e.g. after battle).
- Status ailments are easier to cure: Because of the above two points, you can find Standard RPG Items dedicated to curing specific ailments in just about every in-game shop you come across. By contrast, there is usually only one way to remove a status buff (even a negative one): the Status-Buff Dispel, which removes all buffs simultaneously and cannot remove individual effects. (Plus, you typically need a mage in the active party to actually cast it.)
- In some systems, status ailments do not stack: They may be subject to a One Curse Limit, so e.g. getting Poisoned may render you immune to Paralysis in the meantime. Most status buffs will combine and stack with each other by default.
Status ailments are also a favored strategy of the Gradual Grinder: In specific, some series feature one class of enemy (or boss) whose Signature Move can inflict every status ailment in the book simultaneously, which can easily cause a Total Party Kill if you're not prepared for it before charging into battle.
For a list of common status ailments by what systems commonly label them by, see Status Effects.